What To Do When Your Positive Affirmations No Longer Work

Sadly, positive affirmations won’t always work for you.

Keep reading for a few techniques to help when positive affirmations aren’t cutting it.

Positive affirmations and positive thinking

Both keep us oriented toward our goals and move us forward.

Positive affirmations are another form of thinking positively and keeping our doubts at bay, aren’t they?

Well, maybe not.

Do positive affirmations work?

As a psychotherapist who’s been in practice for over 30 years, I have doubts about positive affirmations leading us to success.

I started encouraging clients to use them to overcome their fears and misgivings.

But soon, I found they weren’t working as well as I’d hoped.

Most clients “forget” to do them no matter how many times they set an intention to do so.

For many, saying or writing positive affirmations raised their reservations and anxiety levels rather than reduced them.

Why positive affirmations won’t always work

Eventually, I recognized what was wrong: positive affirmations don’t work because of the (mostly) unconscious mixed feelings people naturally have about what they need to do to succeed.

Humans are brimming with internal contradictions and ambivalence.

Evolution programs us to ignore, minimize, and underestimate our “don’t want to” feelings when we also have “want to” feelings.

If humans didn’t do this, they’d get nowhere.

Let’s look at some examples.

We may affirm, “I am happy eating healthy foods, I want to exercise regularly, I will discipline the kids with a quiet voice, I will take better care of myself.”

However, lurking beneath these lofty aspirations are opposing beliefs such as:

  • “The only way I know how to comfort myself is with sweets.”
  • “I hate how my fat body looks in workout clothes.”
  • “If I don’t yell at the kids, they won’t listen to me.” 
  • “I’m such a screw-up that I don’t deserve to treat myself well.”

Left unacknowledged and unaddressed, these fears will scuttle even the best-laid plans.

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Mental conflicts have many names: opposing beliefs, ambivalence, conflicting, contradictory, or mixed feelings.

It doesn’t matter what you call them; they are alive and well and living inside all of us to a greater or lesser extent.

Sometimes, they flutter into awareness.

But, more often than not, they lie in wait outside consciousness.

This is partly because most of us try to will ourselves to feel gung-ho about making positive choices and following through with them.

We fear our “negative” feelings will just get in the way and believe they’ll disappear if we simply ignore them.

Now that you know why affirmations don’t work, does this mean there are no strategies for meeting our goals?

Absolutely not.

What works is to stop and explore the underbelly of desire, which is based on fear.

Here are six techniques to help you do that and move forward.

6 techniques that work when positive affirmations don’t:

1. Accept thoughts or feelings that impede success.

Give yourself permission to acknowledge and accept that there’s nothing wrong with you mentally just because you haven’t reached your goals.

Most of your dreams are realistic and healthy, even those you’ve been trying to attain forever.

Understand that you’re not suffering from mental illness but from mental conflict.

Remember: this is why positive affirmations don’t work.

So start by taking heart.

Know that having mixed or conflicting feelings is natural, normal, and entirely human.

2. Identify specific barriers.

Write the thoughts and feelings that stand in the way of reaching your goal, saying as not wanting to give up that bowl of ice cream while watching the evening news.

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Your reasons may be simply born of habit.

For instance, you and your spouse share a bonding experience digging into the Haagen Daz at the end of a long day.

Or, the activity reminds you of how you and your mother used to sit next to each other and have dessert in front of the TV at night after your father died.

3. Assess the intensity of your conflict.

Categorize whether your mixed feelings are major or minor by writing them down.

Evaluate them by the amount and intensity of your reasons for not wanting to reach a certain goal.

A minor conflict might be how every workday morning, you awaken and fervently wish that you could roll over and catch a few more zzz’s rather than get up.

An example of a major conflict is deciding whether to leave a job or a marriage.

You can’t expect to put the same effort into resolving major conflicts as you do into minor ones.

4. Eliminate barriers to thinking and feeling.

For every reason that has prevented you from reaching your goal, come up with ways to overcome or resolve it:

Clear the brush to have an easier path to success.

5. Check in with yourself.

Ask yourself periodically if any remnants of fears are hanging around that are preventing you from reaching your goal.

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Tend to them with care and compassion.

Remind yourself why you need not be fearful or why tolerating discomfort is okay.

If you experienced one of the leading causes of low self-esteem and confidence as a child because you were fat and made fun of, and you’re afraid the same thing will happen now, tell yourself that most people won’t say anything directly to you.

You do not know what people are thinking about you (in fact, it may impress them that you’re out there exercising).

As an adult, you can handle an unkind comment better than you could have as a child.

6. Enjoy pride.

Too many people are uncomfortable feeling pride.

That is the major barrier they have to attain or maintain success.

Maybe they were raised to believe that feeling pride is sinful, selfish, or grandiose.

Whatever the case, make sure you’re not ambivalent about feeling proud of yourself as you progress or when you’ve reached your goal.

This is when what we call self-sabotage appears to swoop in.

Because we’re uncomfortable being proud of our achievements, we negate or undo them.

Instead, recognize that pride is a positive feeling you deserve—especially when you have worked hard to reach a goal.

Do what works for you

If positive affirmations work for you, well, by all means, continue using them.

But if they haven’t panned out, don’t blame yourself.

You haven’t failed with affirmations.

They’ve failed you simply because positive affirmations don’t always work.

Instead, give the six strategies above a try.

Let us know your thoughts in the comment section below.

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